Wisconsin Law Would Allow Prosecution of School Staff Over ‘Inappropriate’ Books

A proposed bill removes protections of schools and their staff against prosecution for allowing students to access materials deemed inappropriate.

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Republican lawmakers are proposing to remove certain books from schools and prosecute school staff who allow students to access materials deemed inappropriate. A co-sponsorship memo entitled “Protect Childhood Innocence” authored by Rep. Scott Allen (R-Waukesha) and Sen. Andre Jacque (R-DePere) began circulating Tuesday. One proposed bill removes protections of schools and their staff against prosecution for “obscene materials violation.” The other bill prohibits a school district from using school library aid funds to purchase “any item that would be considered obscene material.”

Rep. Scott Allen

The Wisconsin Examiner first reported last May on emails sent by former Rep. Jesse James (R-Altoona) showing that James had been provided a list of potentially “inappropriate” books by parents in his district. The books on the list dealt with LGBTQ topics and characters, issues of gender identity and sexuality and the burden of overcoming racial stereotypes and inequality.

James approached school districts in his Assembly district to determine whether they had copies of the books on the list. The emails also discussed plans to open up librarians and teachers to prosecution for providing such materials. Allen, Jacque, and other school districts also discussed nearly identical copies of the list and used it to remove books.

Now, the effort is making its expected debut in the Legislature. “Imagine your middle school student shows you a book that they are reading from school in which characters describe how to perform oral sex,” the memo circulated by Jacque and Allen reads. “Most parents would be shocked that a student could find a book with this type of sexually explicit material in their school library. Since the pandemic, parents have paid more attention to what material their students are encountering and demanding that their students not encounter sexually explicit material in school.” The memo references Wisconsin statutory language which “makes clear that obscene material is sexual conduct described in an offensive way with no educational value.”

Sen. Andre Jacque (official photo)

The memo states that the bill related to funding would “help school districts do their jobs to prevent obscene material from showing up in schools and school libraries.” It adds, “some might worry that the removal of exemption will unleash waves of lawsuits against schools but this is untrue due to provisions in current law.” The memo states that two layers of review, a district attorney and the attorney general, help ensure that “only clear violations of the law result in litigation.”

It concludes by further downplaying concerns which may arise from the proposal. “With these protections there should be no reason for a school employee to fall afoul of distributing obscene material, but if they do distribute obscene material, then parents should expect there to be accountability. Surely our school employees who are influencing the future generation of Wisconsin should not be immune to accountability.”

Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: info@wisconsinexaminer.com. Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

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